When Idaho State men’s head basketball coach Bill Evans announced the 2012-2013 schedule in August, one thing immediately jumped off the page: The Bengals played 10 of their first 11 games on the road.
That streak finally comes to an end Saturday as ISU travels to Kennewick, Wash. to take on Washington State in the season’s final non-conference road game.
The road has not been kind to Idaho State this season. The Bengals have lost all nine road games this season, the most recent being a 57-54 loss to Big Sky Conference foe Eastern Washington last Saturday.
ISU catches a break by not having to play the Cougars in Pullman, where the team is 7-1 on the season. The one loss was a 71-69 decision to a nationally ranked Gonzaga team.
Instead of Pullman, the game will be played two and a half hours to the Southwest in Kennewick, at the 6,000 seat Toyota Center.
The Cougars are 1-2 on a neutral court, the only victory coming last Friday in Seattle against Buffalo 65-54. ISU is 0-2 on a neutral floor with both losses coming in the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament.
Evans has said numerous times during the season that the tough slate of non-conference games would prepare the Bengals for Big Sky play. Thus far into the season it is tough to say if his scheduling has worked.
ISU has suffered just two bad losses, the 87-35 defeat to Oregon and a 60-45 loss to Wright State. In both of those losses and the other seven, it was the offense that let the team down.
Plain and simple the Bengals struggle to score points, and every one of their opponents knows it.
“It’s no secret we struggle scoring the basketball,” Evans said after a game earlier this season. “More often than not we are going to score somewhere in the mid-50’s to low 60’s. Don’t expect us to blow people out because our style of play is a lot of motion and screens and not a lot of run-and-gun.”
So far the Bengals are last in the conference in scoring, averaging just 49.6 points per game.
Senior guard Melvin Morgan has been the bright spot offensively through the first 10 games, averaging 13.1 points per contest.
The problem is Evans has not been able to find a consistent second and third scorer to help the offense. The game in which they were able to find three scorers, the Bengals notched 70 points in a win over Montana Western.
Morgan has scored in double figures in eight of the 10 games this season and also is the team’s leading rebounder at 4.5 per game.
The only other Bengal player near double figures in scoring is junior guard Tomas Sanchez, who averages 9.1 points a game.
Sanchez does lead the conference in free throw shooting percentage at .931 and is third in steals. But the Bengals only shoot 37 percent from the field.
Evans and his coaching staff pride themselves on playing tough defense and so far, the Bengals have shown flashes of brilliance, but still have a long way to go before they become the team Evans wants them to be.
The Bengals currently sit at the top of the Big Sky in scoring defense, allowing 60 points per game.
ISU has not won a game over a PAC-12 school since 1986, a streak of 19 games.
For the team to be able to earn a win Saturday, the offense is going to have to show up.
The Cougars are led by senior forward Brock Motum, was averages 19.9 points and seven rebounds per game.
At 6-foot-10, Motum is one of three players at that height. The Bengals have just two players 6-foot-9 or taller, Neveij Walters and the 7-foot-4 Jakub Kusmieruk. Matching up with Motum and the rest of the Cougar bigs is going to be a tough task.
DaVonte Lacy, a sophomore guard, also averages double figures in scoring at 11.3 points a game.
The Bengals and Cougars have not met since the 2008 season, when WSU won 60-41. ISU has defeated WSU just once, it coming in Pocatello during the 1983-84 season.
It has been a long grind for the Bengals early this season and the team can see the end of a difficult start in the distance, but they must focus on the game with Cougars and not the fact that five of the next six games after Saturday are in Holt Arena. If the are not in the game the Cougars will make the trip back to Pocatello an extremely long one.
The Bengals and Cougars tipoff at 4 p.m. on Saturday.